The Laureate in His Element
Joel Marcus Johnson | Easton, MD United States | 06/22/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I confess I burst into tears as the recital began on this DVD. Having been one of the fortunate few to have heard Fidi in numerous recitals, having listened to his recordings for the past half-century, I observed that he had only gotten better with age.
Mr. Morrison offers valuable reasoning in his review, and I respect him. But there is another element to consider, and that is the growth of an artist during the extension of the entire career. For in each stage of his life and vocation, Fidi has shown his ever-expanding soulful intellect at work, and the turn of vocal affect. No two performances of a given work have been quite the same, as he has readjusted the axis of the poetic vision. No great poem need be read the same way twice; no sublime sonnet suffers from a new understanding of a line previously unemphasized. And Fidi surprises us in every recording.
In this respect, Fidi is comparable to the great Russian piano masters of the Late Romantic School, on the poetic level of, say, Lhevinne and Rosenthal and Horowitz. The latter comes to mind (and I note this for my slightly younger readers) as in his advanced years, Horowitz' technical aspects declined, but the poetry, the lyricism actually increased. With Fidi, however, not only has the poetic vision accelerated as you hear never-before-heard nuances, but the technical mastery has its own coloration, too.
By contrast, you see the 35-year-old Fidi in a 1960 videotape, re-released on DVD by EMI, in which the technical mastery is all there, right down to the last hemidemisemiquaver, but the poetry is nowhere near the height of the present laureate. In fact, in 1960, you see an aggressive Fidi, a little over-acted, not quite so sure of his relationship with the kinescope machine. But in the present recital, you see him in full command of his emotions, utterly self-confident of the work and his ability. Yet, both are exciting to see, because you know the artistic story of Fidi's life. (See the Amazon link for EMI's terrific DVD of this 1960 video: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0001AW098/qid%3D1119406478/sr%3D11-1/ref%3Dsr%5F11%5F1/103-7388598-3106239)
I see Fidi in the same light as others who have achieved their greatest heights in advanced age, as one whom everyone thought had hit the apex at 30, no, at 40, no, at 50, and so on. Again, the Russians cited above. And in my line of work, I reflect that St. John wrote his gospel when an old man, and though not all may agree with its theology, there's no mistaking his spiritual, and even poetic, vision, and that he is entirely confident that what he says is the truth.
Moving on to another plateau: There's the matter of the artist's communication. Singers are unique among musicians in that, in recital anyhow, they must have a direct eye contact with the audience. Speaking of Horowitz, you remember from the DVD of his Moscow recital, the gazes of the children whilst he played "Scenes from Childhood," and how you reached for the tissue. Well, Horowitz looked back at them through the notes. A singer, however, must do it through the notes, the words and the eye contact.
Reflect with me, please, that this is no studio recording with a singer wearing headphones in an orgiastic experience with a microphone. This is the laureate, whom you see frequently offering his hands and arms to the audience, beckoning them into his embrace through a long life with Schubert, with the implicit understanding that he is telling them, "Believe me, this is what the composer and the poet are saying, and what I sing to you is the truth."
Gimme a break! In this DVD, Fidi hasn't the opportunity as in a studio for take after take with Sir Gerald Moore at the piano, but has to hit it right every time, every nuance. So a rollantando goes into a glissando here and there. So what? And, golly, here you have Andras Schiff, that wonderful artist, the successor of Glenn Gould in his Bach mastery, yet in the unenviable position of having to replace the late Sir Gerald, which is a pretty gutsy thing to do, and by God he does it!
On this plateau, this DVD is the height of audacity. Fidi at sixty-five, with a new tag-team partner, entering the ring of a brave new world of technically proficient youngsters who hit all the notes, exactly on schedule, the new kids on the block lacking so much as an ounce of poetry in their souls.
There is every reason why this DVD should be a outrageous success. I'm only fifty-nine, and I've just got to believe there are millions of folks like myself who turned on their radios and stereos to listen to this muse when in the dark undergraduate life of the '60s, and found a compatriot in Fidi, who guided us, as much as scripture and the rare friendly professor who helped us make sense of life.
Finally, you remember Fidi and Sir Gerald's sweet recording of Schubert's "An die Musik"? You will find in this DVD the equivalent expression, "An die Fidi." How grateful we should be for these glorious 83 minutes with the unassailable master of lieder until the end of time as we know it. Fidi is retired, and you'll never have a better chance for a "being there" experience. Get out your credit card and buy it. Right now already, while there are still a few copies left. And when it arrives, race to the DVD player, listen, and drop to your knees to thank God for this rare event in your life!"
A vital but flawed document
J. C. Liu | Boston, MA USA | 10/30/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)
"This DVD reprises a performance of Die schoene Muellerin from 1991, Fischer-Dieskau's first performance of the cycle in 20 years. The concert was recorded by a TV crew for broadcast. The video itself is fine -- mostly footage of Fischer-Dieskau and Schiff alternating with each other, with the occasional reaction shot from the audience and footage of sheet music interspersed occasionally. Halfway through, someone comes up with the interesting notion of doing a split-screen dissolve with the top half showing Fischer-Dieskau in close-up and the bottom half showing Schiff -- this is far and away the most useful bit of the video presentation.
The performance itself is unfortunately somewhat uneven. Fischer-Dieskau was in his late 60's by this time, his voice had clearly seen better days (he retired two years afterwards), and there's a shouty, barky quality to some of the singing that is not always pleasing to listen to. There are at least one or two brain farts in the text, and one significant flub in the second verse of Die liebe Farbe. But on the other hand, his keen intelligence and sense of drama shine through as always, and there are some very interesting takes on how to make the poems come dramatically alive.
Watching him perform is sort of interesting -- unfortunately there are about five or six stock gestures that he continually does, one involving rotating to his right and putting his hands on the short-stick piano lid, one involving turning to the left and stepping away, and a few others, and they seem more like nervous tics to me than useful illustrations of his performance art. But with some of the songs, he is quite dramatically effective in getting meaning across with a mix of economical glance and gesture.
So the disc is an essential document for Fischer-Dieskau fans who want a sense of what one of the great Lieder singers of the century looked like in concert (I for one am an amateur singer not lucky enough to have seen him myself in performance). It is unfortunately not the greatest performance of Die schoene Muellerin ever (and not even DFD's greatest -- for me that would remain the EMI studio disc with Gerald Moore from the 1950's)."